Kobe Kato wasn’t even an official member of Arizona’s team during his first season. Three years later, he’s a Major League draft pick.
Kato, a right-handed hitting second baseman, was picked by the Houston Astros in the 13th round of the 2021 MLB Draft on Tuesday.
The fourth-year sophomore is coming off a breakout 2021 season in which he hit .350 with a home run and 34 RBI, starting all 63 games at second. His 43 walks and .460 on-base percentage were both second on the team, as were his four triples.
Kato walked onto the UA team in 2018 as a catcher but did not play that first season. In 2019 he played in 21 games, with no starts, then in the COVID-shortened 2020 season appeared in nine games as a utility player at various infield positions, hitting .333. He was converted into a full-time second baseman last fall.
Here’s what Baseball America had to say about Kato, whom it ranked as the No. 249 draft-eligible prospect in the country:
“A walk-on from the state of Hawaii who redshirted in his first season (2018) at Arizona and played sparingly in the next two years, Kato turned himself into a quality regular for the Wildcats during their successful 2021 season and postseason run. Kato’s value comes from his ability to get on base and a keen understanding of the game, the latter attribute due in part to being the son of a high school coach. What stands out is his exceptional walk to strikeout rate, as he drew 41 bases on balls during the regular season against 29 strikeouts. Kato’s regular season batting line (.344/.469/.453 with one home run) is indicative of the kind of hitter he is. He draws some plus grades for his hit tool, an undersized slash hitter with a good knowledge of the strike zone. Kato has lightning quick hands with very good hand speed through contact. An average runner, Kato will steal the occasional base and his speed plays up on the bases because of his instincts. Most observers grade his second base defense as below-average, but he looked solid during Arizona’s postseason run. There’s a bit of a split camp on his long-term value, but enough teams like him that he’ll likely be drafted in the top-10 rounds.”
Where Kato will need to improve the most is on defense. In 2021 he committed a team-high 18 errors, logging a .941 fielding percentage.